Lab-grown meat and plant-based foods are going to dominate our future diets: What is driving these trends? – Opinion

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At the beginning of December, Singapore became the first country in the world to approve the sale of cultured chicken or what some call lab-grown or cell-based meat. These are meats grown in laboratories using animal cells. The meats taste identical to regular meat but did not require any animals to be killed.


The Singapore Food Agency approved the Eat JUST (a Californian based company famous for its plant-based egg) application for chicken nuggets. These nuggets will be available soon in Singapore restaurants and other countries will surely follow with regulatory approval in the next few years.


Eat JUST is not alone; companies like Memphis Meats, Shiok Meats, Aleph Farms and Blue Nalu are also developing a wide range of cultured meat products, including beef, chicken, pork, and sea foods.


The Global Market for Plant-Based Foods


While lab-grown meats may take a bit of time before they are widely available, plant-based protein alternatives to meat are already being widely consumed.


The plant-based market is no longer a niche market, as evident from the soaring consumer demand for meat and dairy alternatives. A recent report by BIS research estimated that the plant-based market will reach $480.43 billion by 2024, with a projected annual growth rate of 13.82% from 2019 to 2024.


Moreover, Nestlé reported that 87% of Americans are now including plant-based protein in their diets which has led them to expand significantly their entry into the plant-based market with among other things, its recently launched Awesome Burger. Even large food chains like McDonald`s have recently launched their plant-based burger called McPlant, while KFC is expanding production of its plant-based fried chicken.


The plant-based food market is booming. With one-third of consumers choosing to actively reduce their meat consumption, the demand for plant-based innovation is growing at a rapid pace. So what is driving this new trend and is this trend here to stay?


There are multiple factors driving the growth of plant-based eating. These include concern for: the environment, health and nutrition, concerns over animal welfare, and food safety.


Health &Nutrition


The shift towards plant-based diets has been predominantly driven by consumer concern surrounding health and nutrition. According to Deloitte, this switch is being fuelled by numerous reports that describe possible links between processed or red meat and cancers.


In fact, high consumption of animal products, especially red and processed meat consumption have been linked to increase risk of chronic diseases- especially heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stoke and certain cancers.


Another key driver behind this shift is the positive health benefits that accompany plant-based diets, such as meat-alternatives that are considered high in nutrition, able to assist weight management and thus promote better overall health.Health reasons, such as concerns about blood pressure or cholesterol, act as a main driver for consumers in general. 


Climate Change


Climate awareness is another factor driving consumers to switch to a more plant-based diet. Significant media coverage that demonstrates the impact of meat and dairy production on greenhouse gases and global warming is building such awareness, Deloitte reported.


Mark Hyman MD, author of Food: What the Heck Should I Eat said: “People are stepping up to the realities of climate change, and factory-farmed meat and the way we grow most of the food in this country is damaging our land, our air, our water, our communities and our bodies.”


A recent study found the production of plant-based meat alternatives to contribute ten times fewer greenhouse emissions than equivalent beef-based products. Evidence such as this is causing a decline in meat and dairy consumption, but increased demand for companies to demonstrate a positive environmental impact whilst still offering the protein content that can be found in animal-based products.


Technology advances have enabled plant-based alternatives, such as soy, peas and nuts, to taste like meat or dairy-based products, whilst being far more sustainable.


Animal Welfare


Animal welfare is also another major driver with a growing number of people rejecting a food system where demand for meat is growing at twice the rate of the population, leading to 75 billion animals being slaughtered each year. Animals are often raised in intensive and crowed facilities and subjected to painful treatments. As part of this intensive farming, animals are also often given antibiotics and hormones which are passed onto consumers.


Taste


In October 2019, The Good Food Institute found taste to be the primary driver of consumer purchases of plant-based products. It is clear that taste and texture are key factors companies in this market should focus on. Although dramatic improvements have been made with regards to taste, texture and the variety of alternatives available, these factors still remain a major barrier to the consumption of plant-based products for many meat eaters. It is clear that further innovation in both meat and dairy substitutes is the key to growth in this market.


Technology advances have enabled plant-based alternatives, such as soy, mung beans, peas and various nuts, to actually taste like meat or dairy-based products. In particular, plant-based burgers are often considered parallel to meat-based burgers in terms of texture and flavour, whilst being more sustainable. Examples include Sweet Earth Foods Awesome Burger and Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger.


Food Safety


Lastly, food safety has also been a driver in some regions like in China which have had to deal with adulteration of milk products with melamine and African swine fever.

These major drivers are pushing consumers in large numbers to reassess their traditional diets and eating patterns. Already plant-based eating, is a growing way of life for many consumers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The health and wellness concerns that spurred initial interest in plant-based and plant-forward diets are amplified, as people seek to shore up their nutrition and eating habits to healthier and more sustainable ones.Food innovations like cultured meat, will also generate more food options for those seek alternative sources of protein to traditional meat.


These global trends are also reaching the Middle East region. A growing number of consumers are responding to the same drivers mentioned above by changing their diets and seeking out plant-based foods.These trends will continue around the world and we can expect to see in the Middle East more companies responding to this new market opportunity.


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*Marc Van Ameringen and Nada Elhusseiny from the Future Food Platform

*The Future Food Platform is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a network of global experts supporting food innovations around the world that can have a dramatic impact on environmental sustainability, human health and nutrition. The team works with start-ups, corporate partners and investors to bring food innovations to scale. See www.futurefoodplatform.com 

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